Barry Goldwater

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Barry M. Goldwater
Former U.S. Senator from Arizona
From: January 3, 1969 – January 3, 1987
Predecessor Carl Hayden
Successor John McCain
Former U.S. Senator from Arizona
From: January 3, 1953 – January 3, 1965
Predecessor Ernest McFarland
Successor Paul Fannin
Party Republican
Spouse(s) Margaret Johnson (1934–1985),
Susan Shaffer Wechsler (1992–1998)
Religion Episcopalian
Military Service
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Army, United States Air Force
Service Years 1941–1967
Rank Colonel
Battles/wars World War II
Korean War

Barry Morris Goldwater (January 2, 1909 – May 29, 1998) was a United States Senator (1953–65 and 1969–87) and the Republican nominee for President in 1964. He reinvented the Republican Party after the defeat of Richard M. Nixon in 1960, benefiting from a national grassroots conservative effort that overcame the Eastern liberal Republicans and Nelson Rockefeller in 1964. Goldwater was strongly anti-communist and called for a rollback of its influence around the world, asking, Why Not Victory. He called for an end to liberal domestic policies as supported by the New Deal Coalition. Goldwater was defeated in a sweeping landslide in 1964 by incumbent Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson and lost the leadership of the conservative movement to Ronald Reagan, though returned to the Senate following the retirement of Carl Hayden, where he continued to support a strong defense. Unlike most libertarians, Goldwater was hawkish on foreign policy, and became irrelevant in his later years as he criticized social conservatives including Jerry Falwell. He was a commentator for CNN in its early years.[1]

His book The Conscience of a Conservative was highly influential.[2]

Early life

Goldwater was born into an Episcopalian family with Jewish heritage on his father's side. He was born in Phoenix, Arizona on January 2, 1909. He attended the Phoenix public schools, Staunton Military Academy, and University of Arizona for one year. He began his business career in 1929 at his family's department store. He served in the Second World War and later in the National Guard.

1964 Presidential campaign

Barry Goldwater entered the United States Senate in 1953. During the 1960 Presidential election there was a campaign among conservatives to draft Goldwater for President, a race in which Richard Nixon ultimately won the Republican nomination and John F. Kennedy narrowly defeated him for president. The campaign to draft Goldwater to run for president continued in the next election cycle. In 1964 Goldwater seriously sought the nomination, not running for re-election to the Senate that year, and was successful, defeating New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller. He chose William E. Miller as his running mate. He was defeated in the general election by incumbent Lyndon Johnson. After the election he ran successfully again for the Senate in 1968.

Lyndon Johnson was successful in part because of continued public sympathy over the Kennedy Assassination, the use of negative advertising such as the notorious "daisy" TV ad which raised fears of nuclear war if Goldwater were elected, and negative media coverage of some of the conservative groups supporting Goldwater, such as the John Birch Society. Johnson ironically ran as a "peace candidate" but shortly after the election drastically escalated U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

The 1964 Goldwater campaign helped usher in the modern conservative movement in the United States. The political careers of both Phyllis Schlafly and Ronald Reagan got a big boost during the campaign. Schlafly wrote a book, A Choice, Not An Echo during the campaign which was widely distributed and launched her career as a conservative political activist. A Choice, Not An Echo detailed the machinations of the moderate to liberal East Coast wing of the Republican Party to hand-pick Presidential candidates (Nixon, Wendell Willkie, Dwight Eisenhower, etc.) and called for conservatives in the party to organize to counter this wing of the party and their "kingmaker" approach to nominating candidates. The book was a rallying call for conservatives in the party and helped Goldwater win the nomination. Reagan gave a speech as part of a "TV for Goldwater-Miller" television ad campaign which made him an up-and-coming star among conservatives, eventually leading to his own series of Presidential campaigns in 1968, 1976, and 1980, the last of which successfully landed him in the White House. The 1964 Goldwater campaign was also followed by the rise of a growing conservative campus movement during the 1960s led by Young Americans for Freedom, the rise of a small libertarian movement which also supported Goldwater but would later split with conservatism over the draft and drug policy, and modern conservative movement approaches such as direct mail organizing.

The 1964 Goldwater campaign also marked the first time since before the Civil War that the states of the Deep South, angered by the liberal Johnson's support for civil rights, broke from the Democratic Party and gave their electoral votes to the Republican nominee. Goldwater broke with most GOP senators when he opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.[3] In the Senate, he strongly supported both the 1957 and 1960 Civil Rights Acts.[4] He also helped desegregate the Arizona National Guard and was a member of Arizona's NAACP. Although he eventually regretted his vote, his opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was based strictly on political ideological grounds. As a strong conservative, he believed that two of its sections, Title II and Title VII, unlawfully overextended the role of the federal government.[5]


In his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention of 1964 Goldwater called out:

I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue![6]
"Those who seek absolute power, even though they seek it to do what they regard as good, are simply demanding the right to enforce their own version of heaven on earth. And let me remind you, they are the very ones who always create the most hellish tyrannies. Absolute power does corrupt, and those who seek it must be suspect and must be opposed. Their mistaken course stems from false notions of equality, ladies and gentlemen. Equality, rightly understood, as our founding fathers understood it, leads to liberty and to the emancipation of creative differences. Wrongly understood, as it has been so tragically in our time, it leads first to conformity and then to despotism." (Acceptance speech)

Social views

Social issues were low in priority for both Goldwater and the conservative movement in the 1960s, and no one supported him for (or even knew) his stance on social issues. After 1980, with his first wife waning in health and long after Goldwater was a conservative leader, he began to express liberal opinions on some social issues. William F. Buckley said of Goldwater:[7]

Conspicuous here was his defense of Supreme Court decisions involving abortion, gay rights, and the separation of church and state. Most followers of the senator were surprised, and abashed, especially at his defense of abortion.

However, it's important to note that prior to becoming an advocate of abortion, Goldwater was pro-life.[8] He asserted seven months after Roe v. Wade that unborn children ought to be protected, backed the Hyde Amendment, and was endorsed by the Arizona Right to Life.

After his wife of nearly 50 years died, and when Goldwater was nearly 80 years old, he became more vocal in his liberal social opinions. After his retirement in 1987, Goldwater described the conservative Arizona Governor Evan Mecham as "hardheaded" and called on him to resign, and two years later stated that the Republican party had been taken over by a "bunch of kooks". In a 1994 interview with the Washington Post the retired senator said,

When you say "radical right" today, I think of these moneymaking ventures by fellows like Pat Robertson and others who are trying to take the Republican party and make a religious organization out of it. If that ever happens, kiss politics goodbye.

In response to Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell's opposition to the nomination of Sandra Day O'Connor to the Supreme Court, of which Falwell had said, "Every good Christian should be concerned", Goldwater retorted: "Every good Christian ought to kick Falwell right in the a**."[9]

Goldwater was long an outspoken critic of presidents of both parties, harshly criticizing Richard Nixon at a pivotal time during Watergate. Goldwater criticized the arms to Iran that became public in 1986 as part of the Iran-Contra Affair as "the god-d***ed stupidest foreign policy blunder this country's ever made!".[10] Otherwise, Goldwater thought that Reagan was a good president.[11]

In 1992, Goldwater remarried a much younger divorcee. He then disagreed further with conservatives on social issues. He criticized the military's ban on homosexuals: "Everyone knows that gays have served honorably in the military since at least the time of Julius Caesar."[12] He also said, "You don't have to be straight to be in the military; you just have to be able to shoot straight." A few years before his death he went so far as to address the Christian right, "Do not associate my name with anything you do. You are extremists, and you've hurt the Republican party much more than the Democrats have."[13]

Later years and death

In 1996, Goldwater told Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole, whose own positions lacked real support from conservatives: "We're the new liberals of the Republican party. Can you imagine that?" In that same year, with Senator Dennis DeConcini, Goldwater endorsed an Arizona initiative to legalize medical marijuana.[14] That same year, he suffered a massive stroke, from which he never recovered. He died in 1998 at the age of 89.[15]


Goldwater was married twice. He was married to Margaret Johnson from 1934 until her death in 1985. They had four children: Joanne, Barry, Michael, and Peggy. In 1992 Goldwater, age 83, married Susan Shaffer Lechers, age 51.[16] They remained married until his death in 1998.

See also


  • Mary C. Brennan, Turning Right in the Sixties: The Conservative Capture of the G.O.P. (1995)
  • Edwards, Lee. Goldwater (1995). biography
  • Goldberg, Robert Alan. Barry Goldwater (1995), the standard scholarly biography
  • Hodgson, Godfrey. The World Turned Right Side Up: A History of the Conservative Ascendancy in America (1996).
  • Matthews, Jeffrey J. "To Defeat a Maverick: The Goldwater Candidacy Revisited, 1963–1964." Presidential Studies Quarterly. 27#1 1997. pp 662+.
  • Perlstein, Rick. Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus (2001) Very well researched and written narrative of the 1964 campaign.
  • White, Theodore, The Making of the President: 1964 (1965)

Primary sources


  1. CNN is a 24 hour video newspaper, by Tony Seideman, The Telegraph, May 16, 1981
  2. American Politics in the Postwar Sunbelt: Conservative Growth in a Battleground Region
  3. Taylor Branch, Pillar of Fire 356-357
  4. Barry Goldwater, Where I Stand (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964)
  5. Edwards, Lee (July 3, 2014). Barry M. Goldwater: The Most Consequential Loser in American Politics. Heritage Foundation. Retrieved February 19, 2021.
  6. Thomas Paine wrote in 1795, "Those words, 'temperate and moderate,' are words either of political cowardice, or of cunning, or seduction. A thing, moderately good is not so good as it ought to be. Moderation in temper, is always a virtue; but moderation in principle, is a species of vice." Paine, "Letter to the addressers on the late proclamation against seditious writings." in The Writings of Thomas Paine, ed. Moncure D. Conway, (1895) vol. 3, pp. 94–95
  7. What Did Goldwater Mean? from National Review, William F. Buckley, Dec. 10, 2004
  8. Miller, John J. (August 29, 2007). Goldwater & Abortion. National Review. Retrieved May 9, 2021.
  9. Ed Magnuson, Time Magazine, The Brethren's First Sister, July 20, 1981. Retrieved 1/1/07.
  10. "Archive of American Television Interview with Robert MacNeil Part 5 of 14" (video)
  11. YouTube - Charlie Rose - Goldwater tribute/
  12. "Ban On Gays Is Senseless Attempt To Stall The Inevitable", Los Angeles Times, Washington Post
  13. The Betrayal of America by Vincent Bugliosi, 2001
  14. Prescription: Drugs Reason Magazine
  15. Barry Goldwater dead at 89, Washington Post
  16. Goldwater biographical info